Smart Bug

Left field might be the place my pondering mind landed; suddenly I’m in search of the world’s smartest insect. Without a lick of research, I’m certain there are many species of surprisingly astute creepy crawlers. Naming the ant, bee or termite lacks imagination – invading colonies might as well be Mongrel hordes yet a single ant or bee is nothing without the collective to back it up. I’m looking for outstanding individuals, bugs serving no master but themselves.

Portia Labiata is a “jumping spider” found in southeast Asia – this is one smart bug. This guy is straight out of Starship Troopers – ponder an adaptive predator who excels at trickery and problem solving  –  Portia Labiata at your service. This smarty pants lures other spiders into it’s web with reconnaissance and adaptive learning. Patiently waiting, motionless and alert, legs tucked in to avoid detection – watching other insects come and go – Portia Labiata “plucks” at the web of  her targeted prey. Tricking unsuspecting spiders into thinking something is caught in their web.

Known as problem solvers, they learn through trial and error, remembering routines of other insects. Portia Labiata can even swim – laboratory experiments liken Portia to raptors in Jurassic Park – creatures able to employ tactics based on experience. Remarkable for an insect with a brain the size of a pin head. Portia’s sesame seed sized eyes are larger than it’s brain; explaining why it has ten times the visual acuity of a cat.

I’m sorry I ever pondered smart bugs. Knowing an adaptive little spider ranks as one of the brightest creatures in the world –  sits like greasy pork chops when I have the flu. Portia is no larger than my thumbnail and lives half a world away. Knowing a smart ass bug is out there, capable of strategy and problem solving gives me the willies.

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Portia Labiata

Issus Nymph

A living creature with mechanical gears in its body might sound like science fiction; truth is, it’s science fact. Evolution defies belief at times; not in a “all God’s creatures” way, in a ” holy crap mother nature – you kick ass” way. She wakes up one morning and says “hey little hopper nymphs, your’re never going to grow up if up can’t escape these birds”. Acutely observant, ever vigilant mother nature gives these little insects mechanical gears in their legs; allowing them to arch their body like drawing an arrow on a bow, engaging gears at the top of their legs,  then launching themselves at 400 g’s – 20 times more force than the human body could stand.

Today, a group of UK scientists released their findings on the Issus Nymph in the journal Science. It seems mother nature cares but believes in tough love. Young Issus hoppers –  who primarily reside around English Ivy – are given this unique “crested wave” set of gears; a feature that stays with them through 5 or 6 moltings. When they molt for the last time – thus becoming an adult Issus – the gears disappear. Now they have to rub their back legs against rough surfaces for the friction needed to take leaps. Just like all the other hopping insects – how crazy is that?

A link to the article from Popular Mechanics…

Issus nymph

Issus nymph

Malcolm Burrows